It’s time for the first road trip with the baby! For new parents, car journeys, especially those with long journeys, seem impossible. Many are those who, while they want to travel, fear how the journey with the baby will turn out and this holds them back. Before Jason was born, we thought we wanted to stand out and leave behind this mentality that prevails in our country by following some tips. We have listed them below and hope you find them useful and that you too will enjoy a beautiful road trip with your baby without any unexpected incidents.
But before we go on with our tips, we would like to emphasize that every child is different. As parents, we are called upon to listen to the child’s needs and have the patience to learn through them as well. For us, the following took us quite some time before we could say that we “got it” since our little one took his time adjusting.
Some informal (and non-formal) safety rules:
- Approved car seat as we mention below.
- Safely seated baby as we also mention below.
- By law, it is prohibited for the baby to be in your lap or on your hug while the car is in motion.
- Do not leave your baby alone in the car unattended. There is a risk of an accident or heatstroke.
- Child safety locks must be activated.
- ‘According to the new EU and Am. Academy, pediatricians published in March 2011 that infants/toddlers must travel in a rear-facing seat for as long as possible and in any case not less than 2 years old. They can start travelling in a forward-facing seat when their head is higher than the top of the seat, or when their weight exceeds the weight for which the seat is designed. (It doesn’t matter if their legs are bent).’
- To breastfeed or feed your baby, or even to help him or her digest, you need to stand.
Table of Contents
Preparing the first road trip with a baby
We start by stressing the importance of having an approved seat for your baby. Check that its specifications are in line with the child’s weight. Fit the seat correctly based on instructions, either with the Isofix system or by fastening the seat belt and making sure it remains stable in the sudden movements that may occur on the road. The belts holding the seat stable should not allow the seat to move sideways by more than 2 cm. We recommend at least a week before the trip to make sure the car seat is properly fitted and that your baby fits properly in the seat.
Route and stop planning
Proper trip planning is the alpha and omega when you have a baby and we are a prime example of this tip. Before our little one came along, our car journeys were long and we hardly made any stops due to our eagerness to get to our destination, but that’s not possible with a baby.
Plus, as many of you will already know, we have to make stops every 2 hours maximum. There are times when stops can be made earlier than 2 hours. The main thing though is to get the baby out of the seat at the stops so that they can get their body dry and also for their meals.
We have heard of many families with babies who have started their trip in the car and because they wouldn’t stop for breaks the baby’s crying turned them back. But some babies are lulled to sleep in the car. If you are in the first category, then we advise the following: practice as much as possible.
And what do we mean by that?! The baby, as in the other stages of life, learns and adapts to what it learns. Starting with small trips, for example to the supermarket, the park or even around the block of your house gradually, the baby starts to get used to it. More specifically, they get used to the car environment and to being in the car seat.
Once the short rides start and they come out without crying, then you can start some longer rides, perhaps a day trip or to a location an hour or two away. By gradually increasing the amount of time your baby spends in the car seat, you reduce the chances of constant crying. And eventually, you will reach your final coveted outcome, you will be ready for your first road trip with your baby.
Many mums also get into the habit of sitting in the back with their babies when dad drives. Either so our babies can feel our presence, that we are in the same space, or to keep an eye on it if the baby needs something. For us, this couldn’t work because during the day I needed to take the car (mom here) and there was no one in the back seat with our baby. This way gradually we too can no longer worry about the non-stop crying.
Make a list of your baby’s essentials at least 2 weeks before your trip. Once you’ve made it, make sure you have all the essentials until the trip and when you pack check them off one by one. This way you’ll make sure you have everything with you and you won’t be rushing around at the last minute. If you belong to the category where you need a list or else you will forget half of it, the baby list saved me until the last minute when I realized I hadn’t put out our little one’s favourite blanket, seconds before we started the car.
Specifically, we made 3 bags for our little one. The first one, and as we call it the “big one”, has everything we will need when we get to our destination like his clothes, towels and sheets.
A detailed list of what we pack on our trips with our little ones can be found here.
The second and most important for the trip, the “middle” one, includes everything we will need or may need during the trip. Below is the list that we keep on each trip, large and small. Here to point out that if not everything, most of the list is always in that bag that we take on our walks and generally on every outing with the baby.
- Diapers: first on the list is diapers, mainly to emphasize the number you need to have with you. But this depends on the route, how frequent the meals are and other factors that every parent can calculate empirically. As many as you eventually put on, add 3 more just in case.
- Baby wipes
- Bags for soiled diapers and separate ones for soiled clothes
- Diaper changing cream
- 2 bibs
- 2 changes of clothes
- Favourite pacifier and its spare (for those babies who need it)
- 1-2 doilies
- Favourite toys, which we will mention below
- Baby stories
- Water bottle
- Snacks, to be mentioned below
- Chewing toys
- Breastfeeding cloth (optional for each mom)
- Travel breast pump: Also optional for each mom and depends on how your baby feeds. There are manual travel breast pumps and wearable ones.
- Baby carrier: A lifesaving accessory for us, where we happened to put our little one on many stops, and put him to sleep that way, or if we wanted to visit a place that was not accessible by stroller.
- Baby thermometer and health booklet (just in case)
- Preventative medications and creams: Consult your pediatrician about what you need to bring with you.
- Baby shower gel: For as many times as your baby fills his/her diaper to wash it. We had some small travel-sized bottles that we used in some bathrooms to casually wash our little one who had filled 2 diapers with stools.
Just before the trip
Make sure your baby has eaten well and that his tummy is full so that he can last as long as possible on the car journey. The last thing to do before you leave home is to change the nappy and when you put him in his car seat, check again that the nappy is dry. This way you reduce the chances of having to stop for a diaper change.
Article on airplane travel during pregnancy can be found here.
During the trip
You should always fasten the belt, which should have 2 fingers of space between them and the body so that it is neither too tight nor too loose. Many children, like ours, don’t like to wear a belt as they feel it restricts them. However, they should remain buckled or if they are not otherwise restrained the car should not move while they are not wearing a seat belt.
It goes without saying, of course, and now by law, that it is forbidden to drive with a child on your lap, or in any position other than the seat. We don’t want to write the death statistics we read about, but we don’t want to write the accidents we’ve heard about either because they are too serious. We just want to re-emphasize how important it is to follow the safety rules and the correct positioning of the seat, and the seat belt.
In the winter months when we want our baby to stay warm, we make the mistake of overdressing them and as a result, they are not comfortable in the car seat or even get hot. The big jacket that makes sense to wear when we go out, restricts their movements during the journey. However, if it gets cold or the temperatures are too low, then you can cover your baby with a warm blanket. Also, make sure that the warm air (and cold air for the summer months) vent is not pointed directly at your baby’s face, but to the side.
Also, choose clothes that you don’t care if they get dirty. Your baby may poop in its diaper on the street and get the clothing dirty, or a snack may cause unwanted stains. (2-3 overalls and 2 changes are enough)
Another tip that we also follow is not to put the baby’s shoes on. Socks are the only thing our little one is comfortable in and that’s what we want.
Your baby bag in front of you
Keep your baby bag where you can reach for it at all times. It may seem obvious to some, but it’s a mistake we’ve all pretty much made. Either we have put some other luggage on top of the baby bag, or it has ended up in the trunk. With the thought that in 2 hours we will stop again, many are unaware of the unexpected things that can happen.
It’s essential that when you need, for example, baby wipes to quickly clean a stain, or reach its favourite toy because it started crying and you want it to calm down, its bag is easily and quickly accessible.
Window Sun Protection
For those who haven’t already, we recommend window sunscreens so that the sun doesn’t bother your baby during your trip. Our little one would whine every time the sun hit his face, especially when he wanted to sleep. So we found 2-3 different sunscreen designs for both windows because the direction of the sun changes depending on the direction of the car.
Regarding snacks, the choices are based on the month your baby is in and what foods you are introducing. Also, as a mom who avoids commercially prepared foods and those that contain palm oil, sugar and any form of preservatives, I’ll provide below some snacks that I chose to carry with me, or made before we left on the trip.
Bananas: The first fruit that our baby started eating at 6 months and still our little one’s favourite fruit to this day. We choose ripe bananas so that they are also delicious. For those babies who eat ground bananas, I suggest bringing a bowl and a fork so you can mash them at that time. (Bonus Tip: Put some banana chunks in the freezer and keep them frozen, for teething babies it’s a great relief)
Pear and other fruits: As with bananas, choose soft fruits and varieties that we have already seen that our baby is happy to eat.
Yoghurt: Carry your baby’s yoghurt in an isothermal bag, we choose sheep’s and sometimes goat’s milk.
Fruit Muffin: For older babies, where the egg has been introduced, I suggest the following recipe that your baby is sure to love. In a bowl, I add 1 ripe banana, 1 or 2 eggs, oat flour (oats that you have ground), 1 grated and slightly drained apple (so that there is not too much juice and the muffin doesn’t set), (I also add ground flaxseed meal, some cinnamon and peanut butter that I have already checked for allergies). I mix it all and put it in the muffin tin, then in the oven for as long as it takes depending on how strong of an oven you have, until golden brown. You can preserve the fruit muffins in the fridge, and then in the isothermal bag for 1 and a half days.
You may have a pile of toys that your baby hasn’t played with for a long time. Take these toys with you. Your baby will be excited to see them again.
Choose a variety of toys with different noises, lights, colours, textures and sizes. The bigger the lights and the louder the sounds, the better. It can get pretty noisy on the car ride, so you want to make sure your toys can be loud enough for your baby to hear. Lights are always fun when driving in the dark. Your baby will love it.
We found the toy with various pendants, which we attached near our baby’s seat and kept him occupied for quite a while, very useful. We also had a mirror, so that he could see ours in the front mirror, in which he could see his reflection and laugh along the way.
Find all the toys you may need for your first road trip with a baby here.
Sudden stools are always on the agenda, as contradictory as that may sound. We found out the hard way! For a month our little guy was filling his diaper during specific hours in the morning, but on our first road trip to Northern Greece, he filled 3 diapers in the afternoon.
We can’t do anything to prevent sudden pooping, but we can be prepared to avoid unwanted stains. First, we suggest an extra layer over your baby’s car seat. These mattresses can be washed very easily and protect the fabric of the seat. However, if you don’t have time to get the mattress as we did, the sheet spread over the seat is just as good a solution.
Finally, this article may be about a road trip with a baby, but we’ll take some time to focus on you, the mom. I now know from experience that most of us put our needs after the needs of the child. And it makes sense because that’s part of being a mom. However, our well- being is directly linked to the health and happiness of our babies and it’s important to remember that.
Firstly, if you are feeling tired/exhausted and unable to drive say so. Having your spouse/ partner take over is a great opportunity to gain some sleep that you may have lost the night before. Even half an hour of sleep can work wonders, as you will know for sure!
Also, if you are breastfeeding, you need to make sure you stay hydrated. I breastfed until 17 months, I always had a one-litre bottle and I aimed to drink it all by the time we reached our destination. Besides, stops would be every 2 hours max, as would bathroom visits due to proper hydration.
As a conclusion to this article, we would like to point out that planning a vacation, whether road trip or air travel, with your baby, should be an enjoyable process. There will be the associated stress, but with proper trip planning and packing, you will have already reduced the chances of any setbacks. Focus on the excitement of the journey, the destination, the wonderful photos you will take and the beautiful experiences you will have with your baby.
We look forward to your suggestions and your experiences in the comments!
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